Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wherein I See Phish and the World Series for $5 Total [Rest Of 2009]

We're coming down to the wire and there's no time to lose, so here's the rest of The Best Rest Of 2009.

A few months after the most glorious concert experiences of my life, a friend of mine was offering around extra tickets for the last leg of Springsteen's tour, which included a mini-residency at Giants Stadium. These concerts would be the last for Bruce in the venue that vaulted him into worldwide arena rock superstardom, as the new Giants Stadium (and I'll be calling it that regardless of whatever corporate name gets stickered all over it, so deal with it, Jets fans) is set to open in 2010. Clearly I had to be there and jumped at the chance. I was met with an interesting choice: General Admission floor seats for the second-to-last night, or 100-level seats for E Street's last ever Giants Stadium show? For some, it seems like a no-brainer. Go for the tour and stadium closer, where the band is bound to pull out all the stops and, given the historical significance of the venue, there may even be a special guest or two. However, recall my Bonnaroo epiphany and you'll see why I made the choice that I did. It simply had to be the floor. After being so close to The Boss that I could see the sweat flying off of his pumping Jersey fists, there was just no way I was opting for the seats, even if it meant gambling that the second-to-last E Street show at Giants Stadium would measure up to the finale. Observe below to see why I clearly made the right choice.

My favorite part about this is that more than once in the video you can clearly hear me muttering, "Where's The Boss man? Where is he?" only to have him emerge into view mere feet from our position. My second favorite part is the fact that we somehow managed to not notice the mini stage in the center of the floor just to our right until Bruce was standing on it. We were just in the right spot at the right time, and you're just going to have to believe me that it worked out that way. Oh, and 60-year-old Bruce crowd-surfing a solid 40 yards. I guess that's my third favorite part. It's the story of 2009 in a nutshell, really. All-time highlight memories sporadically cropping up amongst an otherwise murky sea of confusion and doubt.

This now puts us right smack in the thick of October, my favorite month of the year. If ever there was a saving grace for 2009, it was October. Not only did it include the aforementioned Bruce experience, but the YANKEES WON THE WORLD SERIES! If you know me or have read this here blog at all, you'll know how much the 2009 MLB Playoffs lifted up my Worst Year Ever. Some of you reading right now may have been there for this guy's birthday celebration, watching me jump for joy during Game 2 of the ALDS as A-Rod tied it with a HR in the bottom of the 9th and Teixeira walked it off with a wall-scraper in the 11th.

In the next round, I was able to score tickets for the Littlest Bro (who is ironically the biggest of we 3 Schiff Brothers) and I to see the Yanks take care of the Angels and capture their 40th pennant in Game 6 of the ALCS. Of course, our first attempt to see the game was rained out, but, as we saw time and time again in '09, out of the FAILstorm emerges a WIN. Because of the rainout, Littlest Bro was forced to head home, so myself and Middle Bro went to drop him off with our Aunt and Uncle who were heading back to Jersey after seeing John Stamos star in Bye Bye, Birdie on Broadway. That's right, folks, Uncle Jesse himself. Here at Schiff Happens, we have sung Stamos' praises before, but never did we expect to actually meet the proprietor of the Smash Club.* However, the stars aligned that night, leading to one of the greatest pictures ever taken of the Schiff Brothers.

Yes, I'm well aware that only half of my face is visible. I stand by my statement. Note to all of you out there who will now attempt to stake out the Stamos: Try to avoid saying "Uncle Jesse on 3!" just before you snap the picture. Ask Littlest Bro about it.

As October turned into November, the Yankees ended nine long years of frustration with World Series win number 27 and another parade down Broadway. Yes, I'm well aware that complaining of the Yankees "struggles" is ridiculous. I apologize for nothing. I also should probably mention that I was in the house to watch the Bombers take down the Philthadelph in Game 2 of the World Series alongside Middle Bro, which was especially satisfying since we got to chant "Who's your daddy?" at Pedro Martinez all night. Probably should also mention that it was free. Hey, I said the highs were all-timers.

The final positive of 2009 was Phish's fall tour. For the first time ever I decided to try and check out an entire multi-night run, procuring tickets for Wednesday and Friday nights at Madison Square Garden, and Saturday night at my alma mater, The University of Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena. Of course, Thursday - the one night of the four I went into without a ticket - was the night of note. I joined my friends at the bar near MSG for their pregame, and just as I was about to go do a lap around the arena to scour for an extra, the guy next to me at the bar leaned over and said, "You need a ticket? Here you go." He pulled out a mail order ticket, I managed to mutter something along the lines of, "Are you serious?" and he said, "Sure, why not? I was gonna eat it anyway. Buy me a beer and it's yours." So, for the price of the beer I was able to ensure that I saw "Fluffhead" for the first time live. I'd call that a victory. Of course, that was also the night I learned that Jonathan Larsen, creator of RENT, died of an aortic aneurism, and didn't even have a little bit of AIDS. I'd call that a loss. A major loss. I have never felt so bamboozled in my life, and to be honest, I'm still getting over it a little bit. The story will have to wait for another time, because I'm getting emotional just thinking about it, and because quite frankly, it's 8:30 on New Year's Eve and we've all got some drinking to do.

So before you head out to whatever loft party, watering hole, or slump buster you're hitting up tonight, take a minute to view perhaps my favorite video of 2009. I call it, "How Not To Shoot a Concert Bootleg," and when you consider that this hilarious piece of pure, unadulterated FAIL was shot just moments after the incredible joy and good fortune captured in the "Hungry Heart" video above, it's the perfect sendoff for 2009, the Worst Year Ever. May 2010 be the most epic of WIN for all of us.

Happy New Year.

*Wow, definitely didn't remember that the original Stamos post was Yankees-related. Weird. Awesome.

Welcome to 2009, Now Get The F Out! [Rest Of 2009]

Alright, so the Springsteen Bonnaroo story was a little long-winded, but deservedly so I think. If you haven't already, check the Picasa stream for all the highlights of Bonnaroo '09. The general gist of the festival is there, but with so little left of this year, we've got precious little time to waste as we continue to remember the Best Rest of 2009. I can almost guarantee that the highlights of the entire rest of the year won't take up as much space as the camera story. And we're off!

So, right after we made it back from Bonnaroo, I moved downtown and was fired from a shitty job that I hated anyway for showing up late to do something I wasn't hired to do in the first place. So it goes. It was a pretty miserable experience to have to deal with, but I figured it was life's way of telling me, "You'll thank me later."

A few weeks later, the night before I was supposed to fly down to Florida to watch one of my fraternity brothers walk the plank aisle* I found myself in the hospital with appendicitis. I figured that was life's way of telling me, "Nope, you were wrong." Looking back, though, this was a great moment. It was around this time when I decided that I'd had enough bullshit negativity. From that moment on, I would devote myself to being one of those positive people I can't stand. It has been a struggle, and while I can assure you that my cynicism and penchant for hatin' will never quite disappear, I have to admit that little by little, I started to feel the whole optimism thing coming back to me. Friends and family even told me they were noticing a change, and despite being jobless and recovering from surgery to remove a useless, vestigial organ, more quality memories emerged from the Worst Year Ever. Less than a week after the surgery, I was trucking up to Saratoga to see Phish once again, relying on my brother as a personal lean-to while nearly passing out for the entire second set to wrap up Summer Tour 2009.** Next, I hit Cape May for a week of relaxation before a bachelor party and another wedding Labor Day Weekend (this time I was able to attend), making Summer Sans Appendix a success.

Allow me to pause here, if I may, during the Cape May portion of this recap, to acknowledge that while 2009 may have been the WYE, it brought us perhaps the greatest television show of the Aughts. Of course I speak of the now-legendary Jersey Shore. I'm not going to dwell on this too much, especially since Cajun Boy has done such an admirable job of keeping us up to speed on all the fist-pumping madness over at Animal NY, but isn't it fitting that 2009, which was beyond awful, gave us a show so far beyond awful that it's truly amazing? I groaned in disgust when I first learned the premise of Jersey Shore, but I'm already hoping for a second season*** and tonight's new episode is pretty much the only part of New Year's Eve that I'm looking forward to (Aside from, of course, saying "Good thefuck riddance!" to 2009. You really can't understate just how craptastic this year was).

Actually, this seems like a good time for yet another short commercial break, but chill out, Freckles McGee - The Rest Of 2009 continues momentarily. In the meantime, amuse yourself with one of the most talked about viral videos of the year below. Snooki Punch '09, never forget.

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*Another 2009 phenomenon, by the way: My friends getting married. No, I have no idea what they're thinking either. I mean, uh, Mazel Tov, guys! Many happy returns! Hope getting married questionably young during the Worst Year Ever works out for you!

**Totally worth it.

***MTV, if you're out there, I have a few friends from back in the old neighborhood that you have to meet, ASAP!

The Worst Year Ever is Finally Over [It's safe to come out!]

Well hey there, stinky britches! Didn't see you hangin around. I thought everyone had left. I certainly got the hell out of there. I guess after the Thriller was gone I just couldn't see a reason anymore.

Look, I have no idea why I abruptly vanished from these airwaves way back in June. This year just sort of shook out that way. Sure, the good moments included some all-time memories, and I intend to give thanks for that. However, for me, navigating through 2009 mostly felt like spelunking through a long, dark cavern of suck. I know I'm young in the big scheme of things, but this was by far the worst year I have ever experienced. And so, with that in mind, Schiff Happens presents to you not the Best Of, but simply "The Rest Of 2009." Here's hoping that we remember the few good times and otherwise ready ourselves to say good riddance to bad rubbish in the final moments of this decade. I can't promise that 2010 will be better, but can it really get any worse?

I guess I should probably begin where I so rudely left off by finishing the story of Bonnaroo. The short version is that we saw a bunch more music, attended the lamest Lebowski-Fest of all time, and witnessed the coming-true of my live music wet dream - Bruce and Phish, together on stage - from the front freaking row. Now you might be thinking to yourself, "Schiff, what in your wide fist-pumping world could possibly top rocking out to a Trey vs. Bruce 'Glory Days' guitar battle from mere feet away?" And you'd be right to ponder that question - until you heard the tale of Schiff's Epic Bonnaroo '09 Springsteen Miracle.

This isn't even the greatest story to come out of Bonnaroo '09. I know, seriously.

Saturday night's E Street set was obviously the most anticipated moment for our Bonnaroo group, and we decided we were going to rock out from the pit, or not rock at all. This proved to be excessively easy, as all we had to do was stand in a line beside the main stage while watching Wilco's set. Tough life, I know. Soon enough after Wilco finished up, the line was moving and we were there. And I mean there. Front row. Center. FIST. I had come prepared with my new video camera, knowing that I wouldn't want to miss a moment. The show came and went and E Street of course brought the power, as they do night after night after night after night. You all have seen the setlist by now so you know all the highlights (If you haven't, Backstreets has your back. Light scrolling required). Growin' Up. Thunder Road. Hell, Santa Claus even came to town. But what made this show a life-changer for me and our crew was our spot. When Bruce came down into the crowd during the "Badlands" opener, we were feet away. When Bruce brought a delirious hippie chick out of the crowd to Courtney Cox with him during "Dancing in the Dark," we could hear her squealing with joy. And when The Boss motioned for all of E Street to join him in the crowd for the final flourish of "American Land," we were feet away from the most hard-rockin accordion you ever saw. After that, I knew I'd only be able to see a Springsteen show from the floor for the rest of my life. How could I return to the seats after that experience? The best part? I captured all the highlights in 720p thanks to my trusty camcorder.

Needless to say, after the show we were wiped, so we took a seat toward the back of the main stage field to reflect and munch on some snacks. With the big stage closing for the night, a nearby festival vendor started shouting, "Free food!" Clearly we jumped at the opportunity, powered through a plate of some sort of festival grub or another, and headed back towards Centeroo to get started on Saturday's late night sessions. Approaching the fountain, I paused for one of my famous paranoid patdowns, checking each of my pockets for vitals. Wallet. Check. Phone. Check. Car key. Check. Video camera... Video camera?! In my haste to get up and chow down on free food, I had forgotten to grab the camera, which I had taken out of my back pocket and placed on the ground beside me so as not to crush it when I sat down. I grabbed my brother and cousin and we raced back toward the main stage.

Predictably, the entire area was closed off, with security guards flanking the entrances. I pleaded my case with a few of them to no avail. "Please!" I begged. "I know exactly where we were sitting!" Refusing to resign myself to the lost and found, I raised my voice one last time and demanded to speak to someone in charge. An older gentleman approached, looked me in the eye and asked if I could really take him to the exact spot where we were. "If I don't," I replied, "then you can give me a hard time. How about that?" He agreed and we were off again, trying to put as much distance between him and us so as to maximize our search time. I mean, I had an idea of where we had been, but it was dark and that field is huge. Soon we reached what I thought was the spot and frantically started looking around. I noticed an enormous truck circling the premises and feared that I'd find my camera in the shape of a pancake. My brother and cousin weren't seeing it. The truck passed by. Still nothing. My body froze over in a cold sweat. Then I heard someone calling out to me. It was the security geezer. He had caught up to us. My heart sank, fearing our last gasp was over. I honestly don't even remember what he said to me. All I remember is looking up, and seeing him toss something towards me. A black pouch. My camera case. Inside...the camera, fully intact! In that moment, my friends, I became the Luckiest Guy at Bonnaroo '09.

The true miracle here isn't just that we found the camera. It's that if we had not, the world would have been deprived of this. And this. And of course this. And you wouldn't all get to relive with me the greatest moment of my concert-going life. Observe below and enjoy while I steel myself for the rest of what I have to believe is the first-ever "Rest Of" countdown. Clearly I thought that the highs of '09 were few and far between enough to include in a single post, but we're going to have to make this a multi-parter. I promise I won't abandon you like last time. Believe in the Promised Land that is 2010.